LeBron's buzzer-beater ties series, steals homecourt from Bulls


LeBron's buzzer-beater ties series, steals homecourt from Bulls

Pandemonium turned to borderline panic in 1.5 seconds for the Chicago Bulls, as they gave LeBron James just enough time for a miracle, and Jimmy Butler gave him just a bit of airspace on his fadeaway jumper.

After Derrick Rose tied Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series with a driving layup with 9.4 seconds left, overtime seemed likely until James’ buzzer-beater tied the series at two games apiece with an 86-84 win over the Bulls at the United Center.

Just as Rose’s shot was a great one by a superstar, James’ was nonpareil, as Butler did everything he could aside from hanging in James’ jersey to contest the jumper from the right wing.

“It was a tough shot,” Rose said. “Jimmy pushed him to the corner, he got a chance to adjust his body and square up. He shot a hell of a shot.”

With that devastating jolt only a few men can provide, the Cavaliers pranced off the court, knowing full well they stole a game they had no business in. James led the Cavaliers with 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in 43 hard minutes.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“I don’t think there’s any stealing going on anywhere,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I don’t think we steal from them, I don’t think they steal from us. These games are hard fought and you have to win them.”

While that may be true, it puts the Bulls in an unenviable position to have to win — or steal — another game in Cleveland in front of that desperate, raucous crowd, having given this Cavaliers team new life.

Of course, it should be said Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt nearly threw away the game with back-to-back critical errors, one that should’ve been a technical foul and Bulls’ ball if the officials caught him trying to call a timeout after Rose’s tying layup.

After an official’s review to determine time and possession before James’ last second shot, Blatt attempted to draw up a play for someone else besides James before the four-time MVP intervened.

“I scratched that,” James said.

Before the crowd’s audible shock and awe could be felt through the building, the Bulls put themselves in position many times to take a stranglehold on this series and send real doubt to the hobbling Cleveland Cavaliers, having a 68-57 lead on the strength of a Tony Snell triple with 42.9 seconds left in the third quarter.

But as has been the case all season long, the Bulls failed to capitalize on what was in front of them — James was struggling with turnovers and then turned his ankle barging into Rose on a fast break, Kyrie Irving’s strained right foot caused him to make just two field goals in 40 minutes, and they held James to a 10-for-30 shooting afternoon on their home floor — yet couldn’t seal the deal.

“We’ve been like that all year,” said forward Mike Dunleavy of the Bulls’ lack of killer instinct. “We just can’t step on people’s throats. For whatever reason, it’s too many stagnant offensive possessions. It’s kind of been our Achilles heel on the offensive end. It’s not surprising. It’s disappointing.”

The Cavs went on a 16-2 run between the end of the third and start of the fourth, missing eight straight shots and allowing their rivals to recover when it was clear they were thinking of submitting to the Bulls charge.

Rose, who was magnificent again with 31 points and four assists on 23 shots, isn’t alarmed by his team’s inability to put opponents away.

“I mean, it’s still a season, we’re still learning,” Rose said. “I’m not concerned at all. We’re a quick-learning team. We’re gonna look at it and make sure we’re prepared for it. It hurts now knowing we had a couple chances.”

The Bulls shot just 36 percent from the field, as Rose and Butler combined for 50 of their 84 points.

Playing without Pau Gasol (strained hamstring) opened up time for Nikola Mirotic and to a lesser degree, Tony Snell, but Mirotic shot one for nine in 18 minutes. Joakim Noah had a couple stretches where he was dangerous on the pick and roll, twice finishing with dunks off passes from Rose and Snell, scored eight but missed eight of his 12 shot attempts.

Still, the Bulls didn’t turn the ball over much (12 times) and crawled back into the game, surviving a J.R. Smith onslaught that saw him score 11 of his 13 in the fourth. Timofey Mozgov was solid with 15 and nine rebounds with three blocked shots, one of the few Cavaliers James could count on, as they shot 39 percent, leaving the door open for one final Bulls push.

Rose scored a quick five, attacking and hitting his long range jumpers, to pull the Bulls to within three before forcing a James turnover near midcourt as he swung through a double-team to nail Dunleavy with an elbow with 14.3 seconds left. Rose attacked again and set the United Center afire with his layup, setting the stage for James.

“You got great players going at it,” Dunleavy said. “Just the nature, it’s the way this works, it’s gonna be hard to get any separation.”

Then James got separation — albeit slight — returning Rose’s favor and now the Bulls must pick themselves up again or else they’ll be facing elimination come Thursday.

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

Bulls' public address announcer Tommy Edwards is already getting his familiar introduction ready for next season. "Froooooom CHICAGO, a 6'8" forward, Jabari Parker!

Not sure if Parker has the resume to be introduced last for Bulls' home games this season, but there will be plenty of fanfare regardless of where he falls among the starting five. After all, Parker was a part of four straight state championship teams at Chicago's Simeon H.S., earning national prep player of the year honors along the way. And, he's been recognized for his tireless charitable work, including an essay in the Player's Tribune proclaiming his desire to be a factor in creating a safer environment in his hometown. 

Parker is articulate and driven to succeed, which will make him a go-to guy for members of the Chicago media during the upcoming season. Question is, can he succeed where so many other Chicago prep stars have failed? You know the names. Derrick Rose, Eddy Curry, Dwyane Wade, Hersey Hawkins, Dave Corzine, Cazzie Russell and even our own Kendall Gill. All Chicago area high school stars looking to replicate that greatness playing for the Bulls. But none of them were part of an NBA championship team in their hometown.

So, what will expectations be like for the 23 year old Parker? The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft has already come back from two separate ACL tears in his left knee, which effectively removed him from the list of young players projected as future All-Stars. Still, Parker was averaging over 20 points a game for the Bucks before his second ACL injury in February of 2017, and he came back this past season with his trademark explosiveness at the rim still very much intact.

It's obvious playing for his hometown Bulls has always been a goal for Parker, but will the fit on the court be as good as his fit in the Chicago community?

Parker, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are all at their best with the basketball in their hands, which means the coaching staff will have to be creative in finding ways to feature all three of those players, plus the frontcourt duo of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. 

The best solution will be to push the pace to get early shot clock scoring opportunities. Parker is at his best running the floor for fastbreak lay-ups and dunks, and you can the bet the Bulls’ coaches are excited to see Dunn pushing the ball upcourt with Parker, LaVine and Markkanen running the wings. Fred Hoiberg wants to see his players get into a flow offense coming out of the initial attack in transition and when Carter Jr. is on the floor, the Bulls will have five athletic players, 24 years old or younger to get into secondary actions. 

Defense will be the biggest issue in the upcoming season. Parker and LaVine ranked near the bottom of the league among wing defenders in the analytics breakdowns from last season, and their ability to stay in front of talented shooting guards and small forwards will be a nightly key to the Bulls' success. Carter Jr. showed tremendous potential as a shot-blocker during Summer League games, but he can't be expected to block everything if opposing wings are getting straight line drives to the rim. 

So, where does this new-look Bulls team figure in the East? It's hard to project a win total for a team as young as the Bulls, but it's clear they have enough talent on the roster to see a double-digit increase over last season's 27 victories. 41 wins could be good enough to grab the last playoff spot in the East, so if everything comes together for the Bulls next season, they should be playing meaningful games in March and early April. 

Did you see LeBron James show up at the Vegas Summer League wearing a $500 pair of Lakers' customized shorts? I guess James wanted to make sure everyone knew he had switched teams this summer, and those shorts are now the hottest items in L.A. sports merchandise shops. 

As for the basketball fit, James has already met with Lakers' coach Luke Walton and seems satisfied with the jumbled roster he'll be leading in the upcoming season. James isn't expected to speak publicly on his latest move until the end of the month, but apparently he's been assured the Lakers will be bringing in another superstar at some point, either in the trade market or 2019 free agency. 

Magic Johnson must be confident he can sign Kawhi Leonard next summer, but after watching Paul George state his desire to join the Lakers, then change his mind and re-sign in Oklahoma City, Lakers' fans will be understandably cautious about projecting him as LeBron's running mate for the 2019-20 season. 
Maybe that other All-Star caliber player is already on the Lakers' roster. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are versatile forwards who have the potential to become 20 points per game scorers in the league, while Lonzo Ball could be an elite facilitator at the point guard position. And, the Lakers' other 1st round pick from the 2017 draft, Josh Hart, was just voted Summer League MVP, an honor that went to Ball a year ago. 

Hart is a 6'5" shooting guard who averaged 7.9 points as a rookie, connecting on 47% of his shots from the field and 40% from the 3 point line. He poured in 37 points Monday night to lead the Lakers to an overtime win over Cleveland in the Summer League semi-finals. The former Villanova star will compete with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson for minutes at the shooting guard position opposite the point guard tandem of Ball and Rajon Rondo.

It's an odd roster put together by Magic and GM Rob Pelinka, but adding James to the mix should almost guarantee 50 wins and a top five seed in the West. 
Here's a look at the All-NBA Summer League team voted on by media members in Las Vegas.

Wendell Carter Jr.  (BULLS)
Josh Hart                 (Lakers)
Collin Sexton           (Cavs)
Kevin Knox              (Knicks)
Christian Wood       (Bucks)

Top five draft picks Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young were voted to the 2nd team. 

We've already told you about Carter Jr. and Hart, but Sexton impressed all the NBA people on hand in Vegas with his speed in the open court and his ability to get to the rim. There was some discussion in the Bulls' draft room about possibly taking Sexton with the No. 7 overall pick, and he was quickly snapped up by the Cavs after Carter Jr. went to the Bulls.

In the post-Lebron, post-Kyrie era in Cleveland, finding a dynamic point guard to run the show was absolutely crucial for GM Koby Altman and it looks like the Cavs have their man in the ultra-competitive Sexton, who famously almost beat the University of Minnesota by himself when his Alabama team was forced to play three-against-five during a Thanksgiving tournament game last season. 

Cleveland will be looking to shed some of the bad contracts on the roster like Tristan Thompson, George Hill and J.R. Smith, and veterans Kevin Love and Kyle Korver could be on the move as well. Sexton is a quality piece to start the rebuild, but I don't think the Cavs should count on winning the No. 1 overall pick three times in four years like they did the last time LeBron left.
Finally, don't put too much stock into the Sporting News report listing the Bulls as one of the teams showing interest in free agent center Jahlil Okafor. The former Whitney Young H.S. star worked out for four teams in Las Vegas last week, but the Bulls were not in attendance. Okafor will probably have to sign for the NBA minimum this season to re-establish some value around the league.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft is in great shape and is trying to prove he's more than just a low-post scorer. Okafor played sparingly in Brooklyn after he was acquired in a mid-season trade with Philadelphia. He's averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds over his three-year NBA career. 

The Bulls are already overloaded at the center position with Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and Omer Asik. 

Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?


Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?

A report via Sporting News writer Sean Deveney surfaced early on Tuesday morning, stating that the Bulls possibly have interest in free agent big man Jahlil Okafor. 

Deveny stated:

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall.

The Pacers were listed along with the Bulls as teams that could be looking at Okafor, though neither team was at his summer workouts in Las Vegas.

From a public relations standpoint, the Bulls could sell the idea of having a roster with multiple IHSA champions. It would be a feel-good story, with Okafor and Parker joining a young and developing core. But from an on-court perspective, the move makes little sense.

Chicago has a clogged frontcourt rotation that includes Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and No. 7 overall pick Wendell Carter Jr. And while Parker is likely going to play the majority of his minutes on the wing, he will see time at the four and possibly five as well in spot minutes. Okafor has proven to be a capable low-post scorer and little else at this stage in his career.

Okafor has averaged 12.9 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, but has only played 131 games over three seasons. He struggled to get minutes last year with the Sixers or the Brooklyn Nets (12.6 minutes per game in 2017-18). His continued poor defense and lack of rebounding prowess were the main reasons why.

He had a 59.3 true shooting percentage in his 26 games with the Nets, as well as 18.2 points per 36 minutes. But his defensive rating of 110 points given up per 100 possessions would do little to help a Bulls team that currently lacks established defensive centers sans Lopez. Even on a minimum contract, an Okafor signing would likely signal a forthcoming trade from the Bulls. In today’s NBA, having four centers on your roster would be ridiculous, no matter how good the narrative is.